Weird News has always been a personal passion of mine. As a kid, when I went to the grocery store with my father, he’d always buy me a copy of the World Weekly News. He wanted to encourage me to read and believed analyzing the absurd often transparently fictitious stories would help develop my critical thinking skills. I did read every issue, and recognize how ridiculous many of the stories were; so, he succeeded on that score. I was also fascinated by the possibility some of the stories they published might be true. As I grew older my interest in journalism and occult subject matter only increased. While I pursued other careers, my desire to explore mysterious phenomena never abated. Certain friends and I had discussed the concept of producing a Youtube channel since the early days of the platform. We wanted to take on the topic of Weird News with the journalistic integrity of a prestige media outlet. Toward that end, I organized a wire service dedicated to our theme, and we called it The Other Dimension Radio.
The goal of the project was to produce an hour long news digest program that focused on Weird News with a more grounded journalistic edge. Given my areas of expertise, I was happy to take the lead producing the project. I began outlining shows and developing stories. When my collaborators and I got into specifics we realized we had very different ideas about how to present the show. They had prior commitments that put restrictions on how much they could participate. We did not have the budget to hire reporters, never mind sending them across the United States to run down leads. But we had ambition and a noble desire to document the Weird News that is otherwise disregarded by mainstream news outlets. It was not easy work, but it was interesting and fun.
Unfortunately, without a team of collaborators to keep me grounded, the show became increasingly high concept. While some of the creative decisions I made gave the project a distinct artistic flavor that improved the quality of the final product, they also undermined the concept of that it was a straight news program. I found myself writing all the content, and recording all of it. To save myself having to edit my own voice, I began to develop characters to voice different segments. I didn’t like doing so, but, I liked it more than speaking in my own voice.
Affecting a soft Transatlantic accent, I created the persona of Rex Mundi. A guy with a radio host voice who introduced each segment, and narrated many of them. As I was putting the finishing touches on our first episode, Weird News was jumping off more quickly than I could cover. Not only was I unable to crisscross the globe running down stories, I was flummoxed by the volume of High Strangeness entering my stream of news and information.
“When you cut into the present, the future leaks out…” I used this sound bite from William S. Burroughs to punctuate the theme music during the introduction to each show. Ironically, it proved more prescient than I had expected. The future was leaking into the present at a rate we could not appreciate at the time. I won’t go into specifics right now, but, for posterity, I will present the script of the first story presented by Other Dimension Radio, regarding the Great Clown Panic of 2016…
Back in August, the Boston Globe reported on a Clown Panic in the vicinity of Spartanburg, S.C. We covered this story on our Facebook page the first week of September, and listeners can find a link to the Boston Globe story there, as well as links to all of the follow up stories that document the growth of this Clown Panic.
In early September, the panic spread northeast up I-85 to the neighborhood of Greensboro, N.C.
Then, reports of men wearing clown paint menacing women and children in the vicinity of Macon, Georgia, proved the Clown Panic was spreading further into the South. By late September the clown related incidents had been reported across the Eastern U.S., and as far off as London, England.
So, what exactly is happening and how do these incidents relate to one another?
Many suspect that this is a case of mass hysteria rather than a growing threat to public safety. However, a man arrested in Kentucky dressed as an Evil Clown and a series of violent attacks in Oklahoma prove there is something very real behind these reports.
Creepy reports of sinister clowns lurking near playgrounds and recreation areas go back to the late 1970’s. The Cold War was an era of mass hysteria, and the 1980’s were marked by panics over reports of Evil Clowns, Witches, UFO sighting and Satanic Cults.
The fear of clowns, or Coulrophobia, is theoretically related to the transgressive role clowns played in traditional European circus arts.
The origins of clowning are obscure, probably related to sacred performers who embodied the spirit of trickster gods in shamanic rituals dating as far back as the Bronze Age.
Our modern concept of the clown can be traced to the characters of the 16th century Italian street theater: Commedia dell’arte.
Here meet the tragi-comic Sad Clown, the tumbling Buffoon, and the mischievous Zany, who inspired the various Fools and Clowns who appear in many of Shakespeare’s plays.
Emboldened with implicit license to subvert authority through pranks and slapstick gags, Zany clowns can produce intense anxiety in those who fear they may become the butt of their jokes. Social embarrassment, however, might be the least threatening aspect of keeping company with clowns.
The first great English clown, Joseph Grimaldi, had survived a nightmarish childhood performing in the circus from the age of four. Signor Grimaldi, Sr., was an 18th century theatrical impresario and talented clown, known for his explosive temper and sadistic concepts of discipline. Out of this crucible of brutality and terror the younger Grimaldi created the modern clown, a character who is laughing on the outside but crying on the inside.
The Great Joey Grimaldi was forced to retire from the stage in the 1820’s due to the compounded effects of innumerable back injuries sustained in pursuit of his craft. Effectively disabled Grimaldi drank himself to death at the age of just 59, having already buried both his wife and his only son.
Victor Hugo’s 1869 novel “The Man Who Laughs” tells the story of Gwynplaine, a young circus performer whose face had been marked with a Glasgow grin in early childhood. This disfigurement was the work of the Comprachicos, wandering outlaws who make their living by kidnaping children, then mutilating and disfiguring them in order to sell them on as circus freaks. The name Comprachicos was invented by Victor Hugo, to identify a menacing aspect of the traveling circuses. Like Gypsies, itinerate troupes of players were seen as perpetual outsiders easily scapegoated by local authorities.
The exploitative nature of society was a favorite theme for Victor Hugo, who wrote to fight injustice wherever he saw it. Although Gwynplaine is a tragic hero, rather than a killer, his experience exposed a dark side of circus life consistent with Joseph Grimaldi’s horrific and exploitative childhood.
By 1892, 100 years after Grimaldi’s peak, the opera Pagliacci firmly established the dualistic evil clown in popular culture. Pagliacci tells the story of Canio, the lead clown in a Commedia della’arte troupe, who flies into a jealous rage mid-performance and murders his wife and her lover. While Canio is not the first “Killer Clown” to appear on stage, or in literature, he is by far the most famous due to brilliant portrayals by the great tenors Enrico Caruso, Placido Damingo, and Luciano Pavarotti.
In the United States, P.T. Barnum is credited with beginning the professionalization of the modern circus.
Barnum wanted to run a traveling show that was too big risk a bad reputation or leave town one step ahead of the law. During the second half of the 20th Century, the Ringling Brothers joined with the Barnum and Baily Circus in public relations campains aimed at legitimizing their business. To that end, the big circuses mounted a charm offensive on the part of clowning. Friendly clowns hosted children’s television shows, and became mascots for toy brands and fast food chains. The Babyboomers were trained to like and trust clowns as benevolent guardians of childhood innocence.
On 13 March, 1980, John Wayne Gacy was sentenced to death in Cook County, Illinois. The product of a violent and abusive home, Gacy was the owner of a successful construction business and well regarded member of his community. In his role as a respectable family man Gacy had joined the Jolly Jokers, a club that performed as clowns for charitable events, civic celebrations, and at hospitals. Gacy claimed to have designed his clown make-up himself, with the signature feature being a sharp menacing false smile. Like Grimaldi, and Gwynplaine, Gacy’s exaggerated smile belied a tormented interior life.
The cheerful businessman and civic leader was also a serial rapist and murderer. By the time of his arrest, Gacy had taken the lives of at least 33 young men and boys over the course of six years in the mid 1970’s.
During the decade he spent on Death Row awaiting execution Gacy became the ultimate anti-celebrity. Psychologists and journalists sought to interview him, and he received correspondence from curiosity seekers and twisted admires. Crude self-portraits of his clown persona Pogo became cult collectors items while he was still living. Despite the fact that Gacy never wore his clown costume when he committed any of his crimes the media dubbed him the “Killer Clown” reveling in the perverse duality of his double life.
Master of the Post Modern American horror novel Steven King cemented the “Evil Clown” into the collective unconscious with his 1986 best-seller “It…” which added the demonic “Pennywise” to the growing line-up of malevolent character clowns.
Hollywood embraced the nightmarish irony of the evil clown trope churning out numerous variations on the theme, notably “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” (1988), a 1990 TV miniseries adaptation of “It…” starring Tim Curry as Pennywise, and Bobcat Goldthwait’s under appreciated 1991 black comedy “Shakes the Clown”.
Also in 1991, Joseph Bruce, a horrorcore rapper from Detroit, Michigan, had a dream about spirits from a traveling carnival. This dream was the inspiration for the Insane Clown Posse. In 1992, the I.C.P’s debut album Carnival of Carnage introduced the world introduced to the Dark Carnival mythos that is the foundation of all their subsequent work.
The I.C.P. has earned a devoted following of hard core fans who call themselves Juggalos and sport evil clown face paint in tribute to the stage makeup worn by the members of the Posse. The Dark Carnival mythos present a series of morality tales intended to illustrate the difference between right and wrong.
As a group Juggalos can be regarded as the latest expression of the ethical-anarchist spirit of the Punk Rock movement of the late 1970’s. However, some deluded fans have taken away a different message choosing to follow the path of chaos and darkness. These violent Juggalos have developed a reputation for acting upon the tongue-in-cheek cartoon violence of I.C.P. lyrics resulting in heinous crimes.
A spate of murders committed by self professed Juggalos using hatchets, cleavers, and other bladed weapons, resulted in their being classified as a criminal gang by the FBI in 2010. While less than 15% of the 1 Million Juggalos in the U.S. would be considered to be part of the gang subculture, the infamy of their crimes has marked out the entire Juggalo family for special scrutiny. The I.C.P. has enlisted the support of the American Civil Liberties Union in response what they describe as unfair treatment of their fans by law enforcement.
The 17th Annual Gathering of the Juggalos music festival was held in Legend Valley, Ohio, the weekend of 20 July 2016. Thousands of Juggalos traveled across North America for the event, which they earnestly regard as a family reunion. The first sheriff’s report of the Carolina Clown Panic was filed the week of 21 August, exactly one month after the Gathering.
According to the Greenville, South Carolina, sheriff’s reports local children reported seeing creepy clowns. In one report, clowns offered children money to follow them to an abandoned house beside a pond in the woods. A single apartment complex in Greenville reported dozens of clowns lurking in the nearby woods. After similar incidents in North Carolina, WGXA out of Macon, Georgia, reported two separate incidence of menacing clowns on 13 September. A woman reported that her children had been turned back on their way to school by a group of clowns who ran out of the woods and blocked the road. Later that morning a woman about 30 miles away in Milledgeville, Ga., reported being harassed off the road by four aggressive men wearing white-and-red clown paint. A disturbing wrinkle out of Macon is that children report that they received “friend requests” and threatening messages via Facebook from individuals disguised as clowns. As of 20 September, schools across Alabama have been placed on lockdown multiple times over the past two weeks. Children in Annapolis, Maryland, who reported seeing clowns also on 20 September confessed that it was hoax the same day.
The speed with which children will crack when they are lying is an invaluable psychological detail in these cases. Young people lack the savvy to conceal their deceptions effectively and are easy to catch in a lie. Anyone who views WGXA video of the terror stricken children in Macon can see they are reacting to a very real threat. Their mother appears genuinely concerned, adding to the gravitas of what might at first seem like a harmless prank.
The team here in the Other Dimension is split on this topic. Some of our researchers insist this is merely a manifestation of innocent mischief, but others point to key details that indicate cause for concern. According to our Fact-Checkers a significant percentage of these Clown Panics are occurring in majority African-American communities.
On 30 September, the ICP released an official statement disavowing any connection to the growing clown panic. The ICP shared a story published in Rolling Stone that attributed these reports to a moral panic caused by pranks and jackassery. Just one week later, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a man out walking his dog around midnight was assaulted by a lone clown who beat him over the head and ran away. Ten days later, KTUL news reported that a woman had been ambushed on a rural road in Mayes County just outside Tulsa. According to police reports, a woman identified as Amie Jones was driving home on a dark country road when she saw a young woman waving at her for help and a red minivan. When Ms Jones pulled to the side of the road to offer assistance, two men disguised as clowns appeared and dragged her from her car. They then restrained her, and proceeded to beat and threaten her. They burned her with cigarettes, and wrote “Clown Posse” on her face. Ms Jones told ABC News, Tulsa, that she was convinced they intended to killer her. She survived because her attackers fled the scene when they saw approaching headlights in the distance.
Because the attackers in Mayes County, OK, inscribed the words “Clown Posse” on their victim, suspicion falls once again upon the criminal minority among the Juggalos. However, we are very suspicious of the extent to which these incidents appear to target minority children and low income communities. The Southern states in which these clowns first appeared have a long troubling history of malicious pranks preceding more serious acts of terror against African-Americans, and other minorities. The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported a steady rise in White Supremacist hate groups since 2008, and the number Klu Klux Klan affiliated groups almost tripled in 2015 alone.
We in the Other Dimension are now convinced that these Clown Panics are the product of high unemployment and growing existential nihilism. These are not phantom manifestations of a mere moral panic as we’ve been told by some media outlets. There are real live clowns menacing children, putting schools on lockdown, and violently assaulting random victims. Like the nightriders of the Klan, these clowns are first and foremost bullies. Much has been written about the toxic effects of bulling on individuals and society in recent years, this past week Democratic Party candidate in the US presidential race released her plans for an anti-bullying initiative. At the same time, the Republican candidate is presenting his brash go-getter bully-boy persona as a specimen of traditional American ideals. The divisions in this country run deep.
We, here in the Other Dimension, believe these malevolent clowns are in fact harbingers of the real life horrors that have always existed in this country returning from the dark shadows of our past.
The ominous predictions I made at the end of that episode proved to be as bad, or worse, than my expectations. The election of an utterly unqualified reality TV impresario to the highest office in the United States made all news Weird News. We no longer had a niche topic to focus upon as “Pizzagate” and “Q-anon” became national news stories. We had no choice but to fold our tent and go back to our day jobs.
When I think about what I learned producing The Other Dimension Radio, my primary conclusion is, I believe that we humans have the capacity for both kindness and cruelty, we can be both gentle and ferocious; we can be either utterly helpless, or cravenly predatory. I’ve seen the worst of human potential through this work and I believe I have a duty to share what I have seen with you.
Awesome article. No wonder many people are scared of clowns.
Thank you, Caroline. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I was never scared of clowns myself, but I can see why some people are so frightened by them. Especially when they appear outside their usual context.